A common language

By George Ardy, BA’15

If you were asked to picture a clinician at work what would come to mind? You might imagine them consulting with patients, performing surgeries and supervising treatment. You probably wouldn’t think of them sitting in front of a computer screen.

That’s where John Baxter, PhD Candidate, hopes to help. By drawing on his undergraduate studies in software engineering and cognitive science, he is developing a common language between clinicians and computers which will create more efficient ways for doctors and researchers to work with computers on medical imaging problems.

“There is a lot of inaccuracy right now because computer screens are two-dimensional and volumes aren’t,” the young researcher explained. “Clinicians would have to go through this incredibly intensive process of trying to extract volumetric information from a series of 2-D images that they painstakingly segment.”

Under the supervision of Terry Peters, PhD, Baxter is working to create a system where clinicians can input data about a patient’s condition into a computer and have it do the ‘grunt’ work of measuring. This will free them up to spend more time interacting with their patients instead of their computers and will provide more exact measurements as well.

More accurate and efficient imaging processing will have a well-defined impact on all areas of medicine. Patient waiting times will be positively impacted, as the turnaround between MRI scans and surgery will be drastically cut. Clinical trials that rely on imaging will also not have to go through as many rounds to receive approval, which means treatments will be available sooner.

“I envision a scenario where we can have our cake and eat it too,” Baxter said with a laugh. “Clinicians can see a higher volume of patients and provide a higher standard of care.”

The Robarts trainee gives a lot of credit to Peters for his success. “He knows so much about almost everything right off the top of his head,” Baxter described. “He always has ideas as to how my research could move forward or what I should be focusing on next.”

It was a love of all things research that led Baxter to volunteer as an organizer for this year’s Robarts Research Retreat, an event taking place in June that showcases the trainee projects underway at the Institute.

“I enjoy seeing the research that comes out of Robarts, especially in areas that I don't interact with every day,” he explained. “I think it's pretty special that we have everyone from geneticists to MRI physicists all working in the same building and often on different facets of the same problems.”

Baxter is unsure as to whether his future will keep him in academia, or if he’d rather be in a more industrial setting.

He’s fully aware of one aspect of his future, however.

“With the way technology evolves, I know that my research has no natural end,” Baxter said. “But that means I’ll never have to stop doing what I’m passionate about.”

Rapid Round with John

Favourite TV Show: Ripper Street (think of it as CSI – Victorian Era)
Favourite Food: Butter Chicken
Favourite Band/Artist: Sufjan Stevens – he’s an independent artist from the States, and is absolutely amazing
Favourite Season: Autumn
Favourite Spot on Campus: Near Westminster Hall there are a set of benches along Medway Creek. It’s a wonderful spot to sit and enjoy the quiet beauty of campus, especially in the summer.
Favourite Book: The Karamazov Brothers by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Favourite Animal: Cats